Ahead of the opening game against Blackburn Rovers, Zoë Whitford pens a letter to Norwich manager Alex Neil: the man with our dreams in his hands
Happy new season, it’s been too long. Well actually it hasn’t been too long, it feels like five minutes since last season slipped suddenly and without mercy from underneath us. And now it’s only five minutes until the transfer window closes and all of a sudden I bet the pressure is gathering round your eardrums like you’re diving underwater desperate to retrieve something agonisingly out of reach.
But pressure, fear, they’re good things, always remember that. They help make you better and stronger and turn you into units like Steve Bruce and Sam Allardyce for whom water glides effortlessly off the proverbial duck’s back (although, as Big Sam and Bigger Brucie will tell you, ducks are for roasting, not for water). They seem strong because they’ve seen it all before, you are strong because you are different, interesting, tough, learning.
Now listen here, Alex, I’m going to get firm with you now. It’s time for you to believe in yourself. That is of paramount importance. You got the job at Norwich because you transformed Hamilton and everyone cried when you left but they also wished you well, because you’re a good person and they had no reason to feel bitter. They always knew you were not destined for their world and they want to see you thrive in your new one. I know we don’t show it very often, but we so want you to be made for more than we can offer. We thought we had that a couple of years ago, a manager who could achieve anything he put his mind to, but he’s unemployed now and lost out on the Celtic job to a frankly ridiculous man with ridiculous teeth.
When you arrived, that first few months was a bit of a whirlwind. Don’t ever think that happened by accident. We had a bunch of good players performing at about 65% and that push for promotion happened because of you. Unblinking, you eyeballed Sébastien Bassong until he respected you and capped it off with a gentle threat. You were honest with everyone and we saw you kick and head every ball from the touchline. You gave us football that was far too good to be hidden in the Championship and you gave us play-off delight against Ipswich. You gave us Wembley, do you realise what a dream that was for so many of us? You gave us that moment of magic with Delia’s mum.
It was tough last year, wasn’t it? You made some mistakes and the players let you down and the fans were totally rubbish until it was too late. We promise to get better if you promise not to stop trusting in yourself. So what if we lost 6-2 to Newcastle and 5-4 to Liverpool? Chicks dig scars, remember. We are glad you’re not Tony Pulis. We are glad that you approach every interview with that huge, open, honest heart of yours. We accept you’re learning because we know you might be very, very special.
The Championship’s no place for cagey. It’s not driven by fear like most Premier League games. It’s a place for attacking sides bombing forwards with confidence, safe in the knowledge they are playing just how their manager wants them to. Relax into that and thrive on it, like we know you can.
I do have one special request, though. You know how you can be a pretty feisty chap? Come on, you’re not fooling anyone. We’ve all seen the pictures. Don’t be ashamed of it. Give the players a sprinkling of that too, if you could. Beautiful football is the primary concern but this league is a brutal battle of stamina, patience and intelligence. We have to be able to win in more ways than one. Sometimes the team has to show they are not going to back down from a fight.
Trust in yourself and the team will trust you too. Before you know it relegation will be merely a tumbledown sandcastle from which you built something more solid, no longer built on dreams.
I’m looking forward to the new season, see you at Blackburn.
You can follow Zoë Whitford on Twitter at @zvfm2